| PostIndependent.com

Community profile: Vanderhoof a lifelong Barracuda, champion for youth swimming in Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs High School swim coach and longtime Team Sopris club coach Steve Vanderhoof coaches high school swimmers during a practice at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

For a town with a culture revolving in large part around water — from its world-famous hot springs to the confluence of two popular recreational rivers — it should come as no surprise that Glenwood Springs is home to one of the premier swimming programs in Colorado.

Going back to the very beginnings of the Team Sopris Barracudas swim club, there’s been a mainstay who has helped keep it going for 50 years.

Glenwood Springs native Steve Vanderhoof swam on the very first Barracuda Swim Team in 1970 at the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, and remembers his mother, Eddi Vanderhoof, teaching him how to swim in the uniquely warm water.

Today, now 63, Vanderhoof serves as the head coach for the Team Sopris youth program as well as the GSHS girls and boys swim teams.

He fondly recalls those humble beginnings.

“They had the Learn to Swim program at the Hot Springs back then, and they’d do sessions for 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds where we’d spread out into different groups in the shallow end,” he said.

By 1970, when he was entering junior high, the Glenwood Barracudas formed as a summer-only youth swim club team. Vanderhoof was among the founding members.

A few years later, “We tried to get the high school to do a team, but they wouldn’t let us,” he said.

So, during the school year when high school swim season rolled around, Vanderhoof and a handful of other coachless swimmers would take the bus on their own to Golden to compete in a big swim meet.

The success of the local club program through the years, especially after the Glenwood Springs Community Center pool was built in the early 2000s, eventually spawned Glenwood Springs High School girls and boys swim teams. The Demons have since had a fair amount of success at the individual and team level, producing several collegiate swimmers in the process.

Among them was one of Steve and wife Wendy Vanderhoof’s daughters, Kendall, who was an All-American swimmer for Kenyon College in Ohio from 2017-20, a stretch that included a third-place finish in the mile swim at the NCAA 2018 Championships and fourth in that event the following year.

Hometown kid

Glenwood Springs High School swim coach Steve Vanderhoof walks down the length of the lap lane pool during swim practice at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Vanderhoof was born and raised in Glenwood Springs, attending GSHS from 1973-76, then studying at Mesa State (now Colorado Mesa University) in Grand Junction and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

“I played basketball in high school. That was my passion, along with swimming,” he said, adding his older brother, David, also swam with the Barracudas.

It was at UNC that he took a swim coaching class and read the works of renowned swimming coach James “Doc” Counsilman, considered the father of competitive swimming in the United States.

“I took that class, and then I coached the Barracudas for three summers,” Vanderhoof said of his early coaching days.

He swam competitively for one semester at UNC, but said that without the benefit of a year-round program he quickly found he wasn’t as fast or in the same condition as the athletes who had devoted more time to the sport.

He kept swimming to stay in shape, adding running and cycling to his regimen and eventually taking up triathlons.

He met his wife, Wendy, while growing up in Glenwood Springs. After college, Steve went into the banking business with his father, the late Don Vanderhoof, whose family had founded the Glenwood Industrial Bank. Don, who died in 2017, later served on Glenwood Springs City Council, including two years as mayor.

After about 40 years in banking, including stints with what eventually became Glenwood Independent Bank and its successors, then retiring from US Bank a few years ago, Steve focused his attention on swim coaching.

Program growth

Vanderhoof recalls the transformation of the Barracudas from a summertime program to a year-round program, which coincided with the construction of the aquatics facility at the Glenwood Community Center.

Prior to that, the program had bounced between the Hot Springs Pool, Carbondale’s John Fleet municipal pool and even the indoor pool at the former Sunlight Racquet Club.

“The Barracudas are the ones that really pushed to get this thing open, raising dollars through the ‘lap campaign,’” he said.

That campaign eventually raised over $1 million, and the swim club was on its way to having a legitimate year-round training facility.

He vividly remembers introducing his own daughters, Kendall and her younger sister, Kaitlyn, to competitive swimming, perhaps a little too early after they’d been used to swimming at the Hot Springs.

“They loved swimming, but we brought them over here (to the Community Center pool) with coach Howard Jay, and he had everybody get in the pool all at once and swim to the other side,” Vanderhoof said. “They made it about halfway and got out crying, the water was so cold.”

They waited another year, and by then Kendall and Kaitlyn were all in, he said. Kaitlyn attends Colorado State University but didn’t take her swimming to the intercollegiate level.

Vanderhoof didn’t coach in the club program in those early days at the Community Center but took on the high school teams at different times.

He’s now coached the GSHS girls for eight years and the boys for seven, and six years ago took the helm as head coach of the Barracudas Team Sopris age groups.

After dropping to around 30 swimmers prior to him taking over, the club program has grown in recent years to about 90 youth swimmers, ages 7 to 18, and a smaller contingent of adult “Masters” swimmers.

That growth occurred even during the pandemic, when swimming was one of the few youth activities that was deemed safe to do with certain safety protocols in place.

“Through COVID, we managed to stay open after a break from the pool (in the spring of 2020) and came back in June-July. We’ve been in here ever since and able to stay safe and stay connected at the same time,” Vanderhoof said.

Even during the break, the club members would have dryland training via Zoom, including yoga and conditioning sessions, and even fun games to keep the kids engaged, he said.

“I think more than anything else they just liked to get on there and see all their friends, so that was kind of fun,” he said.

Meanwhile, the high school teams have excelled, with the Lady Demons having won back-to-back conference titles in 2020 and 2021, and placing several individual swimmers and divers at state while placing third as a team. Vanderhoof was named conference coach of the year.

The Demons boys team also won the Southwest Conference championship this past spring and sent several swimmers to state after having the 2020 season called off due to the pandemic.

Swim team parent Tiffany Lindenberg acknowledged Vanderhoof for keeping the programs together, even with the challenges presented by the pandemic.

“Steve’s commitment to getting the kids back in the pool when everything was shut down is a testament to his dedication to this team,” she said. “The time commitment it took to make all of this happen was absurd, but his ultimate goal was to figure out how to get the kids back to swimming.”

As a result, the Barracudas were able to hold a swim meet in September 2020, but with a long list of safety measures.

“In the end, it was a huge success,” Lindenberg said. “What stands out most to me about Steve is the positive relationships he is able to build almost immediately with kids.”

Lindenberg’s son Hazen is in the sixth grade and is a club swimmer, and their daughter Ella is a senior on the GSHS team.

“Steve is kind and encouraging to all families and swimmers, and his interactions are intentional,” Ella Lindenberg offered. “He is mindful of each swimmer and helps them find the best version of themself both in and out of the pool.”

Coaching philosophy

Glenwood Springs High School swim coach Steve Vanderhoof coaches swimmers during a practice at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Beyond teaching conditioning and swim stroke technique, Vanderhoof says much of his approach to coaching revolves around role modeling.

That seems to resonate especially with the high school girls program, he said.

“I’ve taught some of these girls how to swim as freshmen, who’ve gone on to be state qualifiers as a senior,” he said. “We’re giving them a lifelong skill and some self-confidence, so that’s pretty special. And a lot of it is just making kids into good adults.”

That’s also evident in the programs’ recent success at having Glenwood swimmers continue and even excel at the collegiate level.

“It’s always fun to see those really good swimmers, and we have a few of them right now, where they have really good support and they work their butts off, and they can probably pick almost any college they want,” he said.

That’s something he talks about with the younger swimmers during their routine goals sessions. Some take it to heart, eyeing the junior nationals or even the Olympic trials, Vanderhoof said.

Last year’s GSHS girls broke eight individual event school records at the 3A state meet.

A contingent of divers, coached by Lara Claassen, rounded out the Lady Demons swim team in recent years, helping them go undefeated through last season and turning heads at the state meet.

As seniors last year, Libby Claassen was named Class 3A Diver of the Year, and Abby Scruton signed to both dive and play soccer for the Division I program at St. Francis College in New York City.

Several swimmers have also crossed over to do well in other sports, including cross country and track. That, in turn, has produced a few triathlete prospects heading into college, he said.

As for continuing on with coaching even after his own daughters have graduated, “It gives me something to do, and it’s fun. I love to see the kids succeed and become good adults.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Junior Gents to begin prep for 2022 rugby season, looking for a new set of recruits

The Junior Gents rugby team practices on Thursday, March 8, 2018, in Willits.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Before winter fully sets in, the Aspen Junior Gents rugby team hopes to get a head start on its upcoming season and is looking to recruit some fresh talent to the pitch.

The high school-level program is planning a training session this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. on the field in Willits, which is home base for the side during the season, and will train until Mother Nature forces them indoors.

“We’ll get serious in February again to get ready for the season,” coach Cameron McIntyre said. “Due to the COVID thing, we’ve lost quite a lot of guys who were there. But the guys who were with us when we had our state playoff run as freshmen, they will be back in the fray as seniors.”

The Jr. Gents are an offshoot of the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club, which earlier in the fall won its latest Aspen Ruggerfest championship at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. The younger side competes statewide through Rugby Colorado, which is not affiliated with the Colorado High School Activities Association.

Playing for the Jr. Gents is open to anyone in high school in the Roaring Fork Valley and surrounding communities. The bulk of the roster in recent years has come from Basalt and Glenwood Springs, although McIntyre would love to recruit players from as far as Rifle if they are interested. The season begins in late February and runs into May.

Many former football players have made the transition to rugby through the Jr. Gents over the years. No prior rugby experience is required. McIntyre is selling it as a fun, contact sport to discover now that the fall football season is concluded for area teams.

The team already has a couple of strong players to build around ahead of 2022 in Glenwood’s Sawyer McKenney and Cadin Howe. Howe spent the past year back in South Africa at a rugby school and is set to soon return to the valley.

To reach out about joining the team, contact McIntyre via email at camaroonmci11@live.com or by phone at 970-379-4740.


Standout Glenwood runner Ella Johnson plans to continue on at collegiate level with Air Force Academy

Glenwood Springs High School senior cross country and track runner Ella Johnson has committed to attend the Air Force Academy.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Glenwood Springs High School senior distance runner Ella Johnson is flying high at the prospect of being able to take her talents to the U.S. Air Force Academy next year.

Johnson signed her letter of intent last week to run cross country and track for the Falcons, and is now going through the process to be formally admitted to the Colorado Springs military academy.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Johnson said. “I always thought when I was younger that I would be a soccer player in college.”

In fact, up until her sophomore year when she became known as one of the top distance runners in the state with a fifth-place finish at the 4A cross country championships, soccer was her primary focus.

“Running just kind of took over after that,” said Johnson, who took fourth at the state cross country meet in both her junior and senior years.

On the track, Johnson placed fourth at state last June in the 3200 meters as a junior and was part of the Lady Demons’ third-place 4×800 meter relay team at the state meet.

“I’m super excited and super grateful to even get this opportunity,” she said of having a chance to run at the Division I collegiate level.

First things first, though.

Acceptance to a military academy is based in part on receiving a congressional nomination. She interviews this weekend with the office of Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., to obtain that important nod of approval.

She has the chops. Her grandfather was a military pilot but not for the U.S. He flew with Great Britain’s Royal Air Force.

As for herself, Johnson is interested in studying astronautical engineering and hopes to one day work with the newly commissioned U.S. Space Force.

Johnson said she became familiar with the picturesque Air Force Academy campus playing soccer tournaments there when she was younger.

“I just always thought it was such a cool place,” she said.

When she began looking at colleges, she reached out to the Air Force cross country coach Ryan Cole, and things progressed from there.

“We kept talking, and he asked how my season was going,” she said. “Then I had an official visit there in August, and that’s what really solidified my interest in going to the Academy.”

GSHS senior Ella Johnson, center, signs her letter of intent to run track and cross country for the Air Force Academy at a signing ceremony on Nov. 12. She was joined by her parents, Erik and Jessie Johnson and sister Aver.
Glenwood Springs High School Athletics/Courtesy photo

Longtime Glenwood Springs High School cross country and track assistant coach Kim Worline said she recognized something special about Johnson early on.

“Ella has always been a really strong athlete, and the beautiful thing about high school is you get to participate in multiple sports and see what you really like,” Worline said.

In addition to cross country, track and soccer, Johnson also plays basketball for the Demons.

“Her sophomore year, we really started to see that she is a gifted runner, and she also really loves to run and loves to compete,” Worline said. “It’s an absolute pleasure and honor to coach Ella. She’s humble, kind, has a strong work ethic and has really grown in her leadership skills.”

Johnson grew up in Glenwood Springs and is the daughter of Erik and Jessie Johnson. She has a younger sister, Aver.

Ella said she is looking forward to basketball season and plans to again play soccer and run track in the spring.

“I’m not ready to let soccer go just yet,” she said. “Doubling up really helps me with the time management aspect.”

Johnson also points to head Lady Demons basketball coach Rhonda Moser, a Navy veteran, as one of her inspirations.

“So, yeah, she’s been really good to talk to and learn from about her experiences,” Johnson said.

She is focused on improving her times on the track come spring, and looks to her teammates to help her along there.

Junior Sophia Connerton-Nevin has been a running buddy of hers since middle school, and with a little more natural speed than Johnson has helped her to improve her middle distance times, she said.

“There’s always room to improve, and I know I can always be faster and stronger,” Johnson said.

Johnson said her treadmill at home faces a wall with her goals written in front of her so she can focus on improving and achieving those goals.

“This sport has brought me so many opportunities, and I’ve been able to run in such cool places and meet so many new people,” she said. “I look forward to more of those opportunities.”

Academically, Johnson is currently vice president of the GSHS STEM Club, is a National Honor Society member and is in the Spanish Honor Society.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Community profile: One-kneed Nieslanik closes Glenwood High football career on the run

Glenwood Springs football’s Blake Nieslanik smiles after a play in the team’s game against Palisade on Oct. 29.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

In what would turn out to be his final football game as a Glenwood Springs Demon, Blake Nieslanik dominated.

The senior running back and safety racked up more than 200 yards of offense and reached triple digits both in the air and on the ground in the season finale Nov. 5 in front of the home crowd at Stubler Memorial Field.

He also broke up two pass attempts and intercepted another, leaping high in the air over the Battle Mountain competition. He received two touchdown passes, on one hauling in Joaquin Sandoval’s pass in triple coverage and breaking three tackle attempts as he scrambled for the final 27 yards to the end zone.

The Demons won 48-14 — much of the fire coming from Nieslanik, who did it all with a black brace and athletic tape covering his right knee and a scar.

Nieslanik underwent surgery less than two months prior to repair a meniscus he tore in the first game of the season.

The team was just starting its campaign for a second straight playoff push and were already down an essential cog in the Demon machine. If he would return before season’s end, no one seemed to know — except Nieslanik.

Glenwood Springs football’s Blake Nieslanik receives a pass in the team’s game against Palisade on Oct. 29.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

“There was just no way I was going to let my senior season just go down the drain,” Nieslanik said.

At first it was week-to-week. Nieslanik kept working, keeping his body — specifically his legs — ready for when his mid-leg hinge would be back to form.

Four weeks passed, and Nieslanik’s doctors realized the damage was more extensive than originally thought. Surgery was needed.

Mere weeks after the procedure, Nieslanik was back in uniform.

In the four games Nieslanik played, the Demons went 3-1. In the six games he missed, they were 2-4.

He collected more than 100 yards of offense in each game following his return and patrolled as the last line of defense on the other side of the ball. Maybe more importantly, the Demons got back their field general.

“He brings this team up so much,” Sandoval said. “He’s just such an athlete on the field. He doesn’t have to say much, but when he does it hits people. They know that he’s going to put everything he can into it, and that means everyone else is going to.”

Glenwood hosted Battle Mountain for its 10th and final game of the season. If they had any chance of reaching the playoffs, the Demons needed a win. Nieslanik’s touchdowns and interception all came in the first half to propel the team to a 21-6 halftime lead and a 48-14 final score.

Glenwood Springs football’s Blake Nieslanik rushes the ball in the team’s game against Battle Mountain on Nov. 5.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

It was their highest scoring game of the season, but it would turn out no winning margin would be enough to get Glenwood Springs into the playoffs. Their season concluded, and Nieslanik’s career — along with those of other key seniors like Teddy Huttenhower, Ray Rosenmerkel, Evan Heyl, Sam Spence and others — went with it.

According to MaxPreps — which does not have a complete dataset — Nieslanik finishes his prep football career with 18 touchdowns, 12 on the ground. With the two touchdown catches in the season finale — which had not been entered into MaxPreps at the time of writing — that number reaches at least 20.

He collected more than 2,000 yards of offense in his career, more than half of which came in his breakout junior campaign when he rushed for 1,009 yards and averaged nearly 10 per carry.

A low player turnout for the fall season resulted in only 27 players suiting up for varsity in the team’s first game, many of them forced to play on both sides of the ball. Nieslanik did so even before the roster crunch.

“He’s the best football player I’ve ever coached,” Glenwood Springs head coach Pat Engle said. “It’s his mind. It’s his heart. It’s his work ethic. That kid shouldn’t have come back after a full knee surgery, but he did because of how hard he worked in the weight room.”

Nieslanik is hoping his football career continues after high school. He’s currently sending film to collegiate coaches with the ultimate hope of landing at Montana State. He won’t play basketball this season and may opt to run track instead of play baseball in the spring, depending on football offers or scholarship opportunities.

On the gridiron, Nieslanik’s impact won’t soon be forgotten.

“I just wanted to show kids that it doesn’t matter what the stats are,” Nieslanik said. “If you show up Friday night, fly around and play your hardest, you’re going to have a good game.”

Glenwood Springs football’s Blake Nieslanik looks on in front of the home crowd on senior night Nov. 5.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

On to the title game for Roaring Fork Rams after 3-1 state soccer semifinal win over Atlas Prep

For the second time in three years, the Roaring Fork High School boys soccer team will have a chance at the school’s first-ever state soccer championship.

The Rams came back from a goal down in the second half of Wednesday’s 3A semifinal against Atlas Preparatory School, played at Frederick High north of Denver, to win 3-1.

Senior goalkeeper Jacob Martin had the biggest moment of the game when, up 2-1 headed into the final 12 minutes of play, the Rams were called for a tripping penalty in the box.

“With penalties, there’s nothing you can really do except pick a side before they line up and go with it,” Martin said in a phone interview after the win.

He made the right guess, knocking the ball away to his left, as the Rams held onto the lead then added an insurance goal two minutes later when junior Emi Magana found net for the second time on the night following an Atlas turnover.

“Our team held up super well even after getting scored on first,” Martin said. Come Friday, “We just need to do the same thing, come out hard and play the way we need to, and get a win for our first state championship.”

Roaring Fork will play No. 1 Jefferson Academy, 3-0 winners over No. 4 Liberty Common in the other Wednesday semifinal, at 5:15 p.m. Friday at Switchbacks Weidner Field in Colorado Springs.

Roaring Fork entered its semifinal as the 11th seed versus the No. 2 Atlas Prep Gryphons. The Rams were looking for a return trip to the state championship game after a disappointing COVID-shortened spring season in which they went 6-3 and missed the playoffs.

In 2019, the Rams went 15-3-1 and made it to the 3A state title game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, but fell to the mighty Kent Denver Sun Devils 5-0.

On a cold night at the Frederick Stadium Wednesday, it was the 16-3 Rams against the 17-2 Gryphons, who struck first five minutes into the game to make it 1-0.

Atlas held the lead through the remaining 35 minutes of the half, most of which was played in the middle third of the field. The Gryphons nearly went up two in the opening minutes of the second half, when they weaved the ball inside the 18 only to see the shot ring off the left post.

From then on, it was all Roaring Fork.

The equalizer came with 31 minutes left to play when the Atlas keeper made a nice stop on senior Ross Barlow’s shot, which rebounded perfectly to junior Daniel Vega, who booted it into the back of the net.

A little over four minutes later, sophomore Josh Hernandez fed Magana for the go-ahead goal, as the Carbondale faithful who made the trip over exploded in appreciation.

“We have a pattern of going down a goal, but then turning it around and playing heads up,” longtime Roaring Fork head coach Nick Forbes said. “When we can do that and play smart, disciplined soccer, we can match up with anyone.”

The Rams also benefit from the experience of several players who were part of the 2019 run. Roaring Fork carries a roster of 10 seniors, so there’s extra motivation to take it that next step on Friday, Forbes said.

“We have the mentality to take it all the way, and that experience serves as motivation to practice hard, be coachable and be students of the game,” he said. “The pressure doesn’t get to them too much.”

Forbes also tipped his hat to Atlas Prep.

“They’re a good team, really classy, and with a complementary style of play that made it a fun game to watch,” he said.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Sports briefs: GSMS Fenceline Run results; Rams playoff soccer on tap Wednesday

The biannual All-Star Fenceline Run took place at Glenwood Springs Middle School on Nov. 4, challenging students to run a lap around the school athletic fields.

This has been a fall and spring tradition within the school’s physical education program since 1999, but it was suspended last year due to the pandemic.

All-time records for the 600-yard run are held by Sergio Flores (2013) for the boys, with a time 1:36.1, and for the girls, Melissa Buchanan (2005) and Sophia Vigil (2016), who both ran it in 1:52.7.

This fall’s top-10 finishers were:

Girls — Kylee Bair, 2:22; Audrey Allen, 2:27.7; Jordyn Miller, 2:28.1; Susie Irving, 2:30.5; Jazmin Lopez, 2:31.2; Lola Schmidt, 2:31.8; Mareli Hernandez, 2:32.9; Ashley Roggie, 2:33.9; Divia Martinez, 2:34.8; Becca Fuentes, 2:35.8.

Boys — Oswaldo Corona, 1:55.9; Ossie Hilgeford, 2:08.1; Eder Magallenes, 2:09.8; Payson Vyhidal, 2:10.6; Cash Hilgeford, 2:11.2; Sebastian Romo, 2:14.5; Cris Calvillo, 2:15.7; Ali Huerta, 2:16.2; Jonah Wells, 2:16.6; Jose Lopez, 2:16.9.

Roaring Fork plays at 5:30 Wednesday

Game time is set for the Roaring Fork High School boys 3A state soccer semifinal game Wednesday.

The No. 11 Rams take on No. 2 Atlas Preparatory School at 5:30 p.m. at the Frederick High School stadium.

The game can be live-streamed via the subscription-based NFHS Network [https://www.nfhsnetwork.com/sports/soccer/colorado].

The winner advances to Friday’s state championship game versus the winner of Wednesday’s other semifinal, No. 1 Jefferson Academy against No. 4 Liberty Common.

Demons football misses cut for 3A state playoffs

The brackets are in, and Glenwood Springs High School football is out as far as the Class 3A state football playoffs are concerned.

The 5-5 Demons had hoped that their 48-14 win over Battle Mountain Friday night might be enough to propel them into the field of 16 teams to make the playoffs.

Instead, the 16th and final spot went to 7-3 Thomas Jefferson, whose RPI ranking of No. 18 was one better than Glenwood’s No. 19. The two swapped positions in the final MaxPreps poll Sunday, but when the final numbers were crunched to set the brackets, it was TJ that made it in.

Central West League champion Palisade was the only 3A Western Slope team to make the playoffs. The 8-2 Bulldogs are seeded No. 7.

Undefeated Roosevelt and Lutheran earned the top two seed in the 3A playoffs. Also representing in order of seeding will be Fort Morgan, Durango, Mead, Frederick, Holy Family, Pueblo South, Pueblo East, Pueblo County, Northridge, Evergreen, Green Mountain and Discovery Canyon.

Glenwood Springs finished at 5-5 and 1-2 in league. The Demons graduate seniors Evan Heyl, Ranier Foreback, Ethan Fergen, Blake Nieslanik, Sawyer Mckenney, Ray Rosenmerkel, William Marshall, Stefan Wroblewski, Axel Contreras, Teddy Huttenhower, Bennett Walter, Cameron Small and William Roark, according to the team roster posted to MaxPreps.

Preps: Basalt football can’t overcome Brush in first round of playoffs; AHS volleyball out

The Basalt High School football team practices on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, on the BHS field.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The Basalt High School football team’s stay in the postseason was short and far from sweet. The No. 10 seed Longhorns fell behind early and could never get back into it in a 43-23 loss at No. 7 Brush in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs on Saturday afternoon.

“We’ve been better, but the kids battled,” BHS coach Carl Frerichs said. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s playoffs or the normal season, the high school momentum is huge when it starts to go down the wrong way and it went down the wrong way pretty fast. We got ourselves into a hole.”

A coin flip on paper, Brush looked superior from the start. After forcing an early BHS punt, the Beetdiggers quickly took a 7-0 lead not even three minutes in when running back Ty Griffith caught a short pass from quarterback Alejandro Maltos-Garcia. The hole got deeper barely two minutes later when a bad snap on a BHS punt resulted in a safety and Brush led 9-0 after a quarter.

Less than a minute into the second quarter, Brush’s lead grew to 16-0 on an easy 10-yard run by Griffith.

Among the first-half highlights for Basalt was an interception by star senior Sam Sherry, which helped set up a 24-yard field goal by senior Carlos Palomares to make it 16-3 with less than three minutes to play until the break.

Before the Longhorns could get to halftime, however, a busted coverage left Ivan Cardenas wide open, the end result a 44-yard touchdown catch that made it 23-3 at halftime.

“We feel like we could have done some better things, but we need to give some credit to Brush. They did a lot of things great and they deserve to win,” Frerichs said. “I was proud of our effort for four quarters. Just too many mistakes with coaching and with playing. You are not going to win a playoff game without each phase.”

Both teams started the third quarter somewhat sluggish before Basalt scored via a 2-yard run from junior tailback Cooper Crawford to give BHS some hope down 23-10 heading into the final quarter.

The wheels fully came off in the fourth, however. Griffith scored on another short run — the extra point was blocked — to make it 29-10 with less than eight minutes to play.

Basalt junior quarterback Kade Schneider answered by finding Sherry on a 68-yard TD connection, the highlight of the BHS offense on Saturday, to cut it to 29-16 after also having an extra point blocked.

Brush closed with an 18-yard touchdown run by Cesar Hinojos with less than four minutes remaining that made it 36-16. Counter to the situation, the Beetdiggers then surprised Basalt with an onside kick and recovered it, and then tossed a 36-yard TD pass to Hinojos to shut the door on any BHS rally.

Basalt did get one final score, an 8-yard TD run by senior tailback Gavin Webb with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.

Brush (8-2) moves on to face No. 2 seed Resurrection Christian in the second round; the Cougars (8-1) won 56-15 over No. 15 La Junta on Saturday.

Basalt finishes the season 7-3 overall. It was the sixth straight trip to the postseason for the program.

“It’s so hard anytime you see another senior class graduating that I’m so proud of. They do so much,” Frerichs said. “They put so much into this. We truly are a family, so it’s tough to see these guys move on. It’s kind of the coaching cliché, but it’s 100% true: there is only one team happy at the end. I wish we would have got a few more weeks together, but there is only one team happy at the end.”

The only team remaining from the 2A Western Slope League is No. 4 seed Delta, a 45-14 winner over No. 13 Alamosa in the first round. The Panthers will play No. 12 University in the second round, which knocked off No. 5 Moffat County on Saturday, 28-14.

Aspen volleyball season comes to an end

The Aspen High School volleyball season also ended on Saturday with a loss to Lamar in regional play. The Skiers were competing in the postseason for the first time since 2018, drawing the No. 23 seed in the 36-team regional field.

Aspen opened its three-team region by beating No. 35 Stargate School, 3-0, by set scores of 25-12, 25-9 and 25-21.

But facing No. 2 seed and region host Lamar in the winner-take-all final, Lamar rolled to an easy 3-0 win. Set scores were 25-12, 25-7 and 25-14. Lamar also beat Stargate School 3-0 with set scores of 25-6, 25-20 and 25-9.

The Savages, who are a perfect 25-0, will be one of the 12 teams competing in the Class 3A state tournament this coming week.

Aspen finishes the season 17-6 overall, the team’s best mark since going 18-7 in 2018. The Skiers finished second in the 3A Western Slope League behind only champion Delta.

Note: The Aspen High School boys soccer team’s season came to an end last week with a 1-0 overtime loss to DSST: Green Valley Ranch on the Evie Dennis Campus in the first round of the 3A state tournament in Denver. It was Aspen’s first playoff appearance since 2018. The No. 19-seeded Skiers finished the season 9-6-1 overall, their best record since going 11-6 in 2014.

Calendar turns toward winter

Saturday’s losses by Basalt football and Aspen volleyball mean the fall prep season is over between the two schools and the winter season is effectively here.

Winter sports practices officially get underway on Monday, Nov. 15, with the first contests for most sports allowed as early as Nov. 29.

Area winter sports include boys and girls basketball, ice hockey, girls swimming, wrestling and skiing for both alpine and nordic.


Semis bound! No. 11 Roaring Fork upsets No. 3 Faith Christian 3-2 in 3A soccer playoffs; Titans volleyball out

The Roaring Fork Rams of Carbondale controlled the ball for most of the high school boys 3A state soccer quarterfinal game against Faith Christian in Arvada on Saturday afternoon, emerging with a 3-2 win to advance to Wednesday’s semifinals.

The Rams entered the quarterfinal matchup as the lower seed, No. 11 versus the No. 3 Eagles, but were dominant despite an equalizer for Faith at the end of the first half that knotted it 1-1 going into the break.

“I told them to keep pushing and keep taking chances, and that we were in control,” Roaring Fork head coach Nick Forbes said. “When you do that, good things happen, and they did.”

Next up: No. 2 Atlas Preparatory School, 2-1 winners over No. 10 Lutheran on Saturday, in the semifinal round Wednesday afternoon at Frederick High School.

In Saturday’s quarterfinal, Roaring Fork got on the scoreboard first in the 16th minute when senior captain Ross Barlow found the net off an assist from senior striker Carlos Perez.

Faith got the equalizer in the 39th on a ball that appeared to careen off the adjacent football goal post before finding the foot of an Eagles player. In any case, the score was counted.

The Rams again dominated to start the second half before Perez again found Barlow for the go-ahead in the 51st minute of play to make it 2-1.

Senior Jose Mercado provided some insurance with an unassisted goal 13 minutes later — good thing, because Faith found the net with just 30 seconds to play when the ball rebounded off Rams goalie Jacob Martin.

Too little, too late, for the higher seed at that point, though, as the Rams held on for the victory.

“A lot of these players have been here before, and every time feels great,” Forbes said of Roaring Fork’s march to the 3A state title game in 2019, where they lost to Kent Denver.

“As good as it feels, we’re not done yet, and they know we still have work to do,” he said.

Titans volleyball bows out in 3A regionals

In other state playoff action this weekend, the Coal Ridge High School girls volleyball team ended its season in the regional round of the 3A state playoffs in Loveland Friday.

The Titans, seeded 36th in the 36-team regionals, fell 3-0 to top seed Resurrection Christian (25-8, 25-11, 25-10) in the opener.

A competitive five-set match with No. 24 Lake County followed, but the Titans lost 3-2 (25-23, 23-25, 25-15, 20-25, 15-4).

Individual stats were not immediately available. Coal Ridge graduates four senior players: Peyton Garrison, Brenna Hinkley, Lydia Dye and Bayley Jacobson.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Demons win season finale, but miss 3A state football playoffs

Glenwood Springs football’s Blake Nieslanik (15) celebrates with a coach after recording an interception in the team’s home win over Battle Mountain on Nov. 5.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

The Demons held up their end of the bargain Friday night in the home finale at Stubler Memorial Field. But it wasn’t quite enough come the Sunday 3A football state playoffs bracket announcements.

Glenwood Springs was on the outside looking in on the playoff picture coming into the final game of the season. The Demons were 19th in the Colorado High School Activities Association’s ratings percentage index (RPI) and in MaxPreps’ state rankings before their 48-14 trouncing of Battle Mountain to close their schedule.

Those metrics, along with the end-of-season coaches poll, were used to determine which 16 teams will vie for the state title.

That 16th and final spot went to 7-3 Thomas Jefferson, whose final RPI ranking of No. 18 was one better than Glenwood’s No. 19. The two swapped positions in the final MaxPreps poll Sunday, but coaches gave the nod to TJ.

In any case, the conclusion to the fall 2021 season was a satisfactory one for Demons head coach Pat Engle.

His team, finally healthy, showed what it was capable of. A dynamic rushing offense anchored by sophomore quarterback Joaquin Sandoval and senior backs Ray Rosenmerkel and Blake Nieslanik with just enough passing to keep the Huskies on their heels all game.

A suppressive defense that contained the running game enough and forced rushed passes consistently.

Glenwood Springs football’s Ray Rosenmerkel (18) rushes the ball in the team’s home win over Battle Mountain on Nov. 5.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

Battle Mountain found the scoreboard first, marching down the field for an eventual rushing touchdown in the first quarter. But the Demons snatched momentum back by blocking the point after attempt.

They scored the next 42 points in the game.

“This is the team I know I’ve had,” Engle said. “That’s what’s been difficult when we’ve come back through some rough patches.”

Injuries and other factors derailed portions of the Demons’ season. After starting 3-0, they lost four straight. They finished their last three games 2-1 after the senior running back/safety Nieslanik returned from injury. Against Battle Mountain, he recorded an interception, two receiving touchdowns and well over 50 yards rushing.

Rosenmerkel, decided the game MVP by his teammates, scored two touchdowns, had a sack and went 6-for-7 on point after attempts.

Junior Marcos Aragon also scored a touchdown in the game.

Glenwood Springs concludes at .500, 5-5 overall and with a 1-2 record in league play.

“I’m going to cherish these last four years and I’m going to appreciate every second,” Nieslanik said.